What’s this new obsession with 80s concept albums? Neon Neon applied the idea rather artfully, Jim Noir also had a bit of a dabble, and now here are Anthony Gonzalez and M83, going back to their youth for a fourth album.
Whereas Gruff Rhys and co applied their concept to specific subject matter, Gonzalez looks back on the decade as a period of happy memories, indulging himself in a homage to the best acts of the day, while including space for his more ambient musical style as he remembers many a happy weekend.
Since last year’s release of the first Digital Shades album, Gonzalez has been employing a rather Eno-esque finish to his songs, an aspect of his style that shines through in Skin Of The Night, and its impressive grandeur. However here there are also reminders of In The Air Tonight in the profuse percussion fills, and the drums are a bit on the tinny side.
In this and other moments you get the feeling the band have tried just a bit too hard on the retro front. Up, for instance, is an enjoyable and pretty accurate parody of Kate Bush, with its clever lyric “the hounds of love, they bite our heels”, but after a while your desire for the real thing overtakes the admiration for the imitation.
Far more effective are the moments where M83’s big chord progressions make an impact all on their own. Such moments are We Own The Sky, the wide open spaciousness of Graveyard Girl and the soothing ambience of Too Late. These are songs for the widescreen, big whooshes of sound presenting a kind of euphoric ambience to the listener.
Even this goes a little too far, though, and on the closer Midnight Souls Still Remain, what starts off as a piece from the Angelo Badalamenti cutting room floor completely fails to develop, its two-chord progression finding little embellishment in the course of eleven minutes. Minmalism can be a good thing in music, but repetition along these lines can become annoying rather than soothing.
A real mixed bag, then – M83 still show plenty of guile and in their best moments present music of hidden power and grace. But in this record they seem to become too preoccupied with their 80s tribute for that to continually shine through.